[Frontispiece: BLACK BRUIN'S FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH A PANTHER]
The Biography of a Bear
Shaggycoat, The Biography of a Beaver The Trail to the Woods Tenants of the Trees The Little Foresters etc.
George W. Jacobs & Co.
Copyright, 1908, by
GEORGE W. JACOBS AND COMPANY
All rights reserved
Printed in U. S. A.
My illustrator and friend
MR. CHARLES COPELAND
whose clever brush has caught so perfectly each whim of nature in field and forest, and called from hiding the furtive furred and feathered folk, who come and go like shadows in the ancient woods.
THE GREAT BEAR OF THE MOUNTAINS
He had stolen the belt of Wampum From the neck of Mishe-mokwa, From the Great Bear of the mountains, From the terror of the nations, As he lay asleep and cumbrous, On the summit of the mountains, Like a rock with mosses on it, Spotted brown and gray with mosses. —LONGFELLOW.
URSUS, THE DROLL. INTRODUCTORY I. A THIEF IN THE NIGHT II. THE CHASE III. A WILDERNESS BABY IV. THE CUBHOOD OF BLACK BRUIN V. A ROLLICKING ROGUE VI. THE LIFE OF A DANCING-BEAR VII. THE VAGABONDS VIII. THE BEAST AND THE MAN IX. LIFE IN THE WILD X. THE GREAT BEAR-HUNT XI. A PLEASANT COMPANION XII. THE KING OF THE MOUNTAIN XIII. THE BEAR WITH A COLLAR XIV. THE WRECK
Black Bruin's first acquaintance with a panther . . . Frontispiece
The bear hurried in hot pursuit
Black Bruin dealt the porcupine a crushing blow
Growler sprang at Black Bruin's throat
He discovered another bear, watching the stream
URSUS, THE DROLL
With the possible exception of the deer family, the bear is the most widely disseminated big game, known to hunters.
He makes his home within the Arctic Circle, often living upon the great ice-floe, or dwells within a tropical jungle, and both climates are agreeable to him, while longitudinally he has girdled the world.
Of course bruin varies much, according to the climate in which he lives, and the conditions of his life, but all the way from the poles to the tropics he retains certain characteristics that always proclaim him a bear.
He is a plantigrade, walking like a man upon the soles of his feet. There is more truth than poetry in Kipling's poem, "The Man Who Walks Like a Bear," for some men do walk like a bear.
Bruin's four-footed gait is a shuffle and a shamble, rather clumsy and ludicrous, but it takes him over the ground at a surprising pace. Queer, also, is the fact that the bear combines great dexterity with his seeming clumsiness, as many a hunter has found to his cost. His tree-climbing accomplishments are likewise remarkable, when we consider his great size and weight. The grizzlies, and some other large varieties, do not do tree-climbing, except when they are young. A grizzly cub can climb a tree, but his wrists soon become too stiff to permit of their bending about the trunk.
Bruin's disposition also varies with the climate he inhabits. This in turn is because his diet varies in differing latitudes. The farther south he ranges, the more of a vegetarian he becomes. Consequently, he is not so ferocious. The great white polar bear is largely carnivorous, so he is a creature not to be trifled with; while on the other hand, the little African sun bear is a rollicking, social, good-natured little chap, weighing many times less than his fierce cousin.
Formerly, it has been supposed that the Numidian lion and the Bengal tiger were the largest carnivorous animals in existence, but more recent discoveries show that our Alaskan brown bear, found upon the peninsulas of lower Alaska and Kodiak Island, is easily the master of either, in size or strength. Some of the splendid skins taken from these, the largest of all the bears, measure fourteen feet in length. Alaska also gives us the smallest North American bear, the glacial bear.
Californians are wont to tell us that the only true grizzly is that found upon the cover of the Overland Monthly, but they overlook the fact that the name was given to bears found along the Missouri River by Lewis and Clarke, years before California, with all its wealth, was discovered.
In Russia, a fine specimen of the family is found in the Ural Mountains. His peculiarity is a white collar about the neck, so his Latin name, Ursus collaris, means the bear with a collar. All through the Himalayas, this restless plantigrade has wandered, and even far down upon the low-lying plains of India and China; but all the way he shuffles and shambles and is the same droll fellow.
The bear's vegetable diet consists of berries, nuts and many kinds of roots. He will not refuse sweet apples and pears when he can find them. In the tropics he eats nearly all the fruits that the natives eat and leads altogether a lazy, luxurious life. Since food is plentiful in these warm climates, he does not have to cross the path of man to get it, or be forced to steal, as the bear living in colder climes often does; so he is a good-natured, easy-going fellow, who will let you alone if you do not pick a quarrel with him. This is much more true of bears in general, than is usually supposed.
In the tropics, the bear does not have to hibernate to keep the fat that he has gained in the time of plenty upon his ribs. So his period of sleeping is very short and in many cases he does not hibernate at all; while, on the other hand, the bear of the cold northland sleeps nearly half of the year.
Hibernation seems to be a wise provision of nature by means of which the bear conserves his flesh and strength during extreme weather. When the ground is covered several feet deep with snow, it will readily be seen that berry-picking would be difficult, and nuts and roots would be hard to find, as would the ants and grubs under logs and stones, with which the bear varies his diet in fine weather. The chipmunks and mice have also denned up, so there is not much for bruin to do but sleep.
There is one weakness that I believe the bear always indulges whenever he can, no matter in what clime he be found, and that is a love for sweets, especially honey. He will dare the sharp bayonets of the most angry swarm of bees or climb the worst tree, if he feels at all certain that there will be honey after his pains. In some countries, he damages a great many telephone and telegraph poles and wires by climbing the poles in search of that swarm of bees, which he imagines he hears humming, inside the pole.
In the temperate zone bears mate in the summer months and the young are born late in January, during hibernation. Bear-cubs are very small babies for such large parents, weighing much less in proportion to their dams than most other mammals. They are blind, helpless and almost hairless.
As the old bear is very fat when they are born and they do nothing but sleep in the dark den, they grow rapidly, so that when they are finally brought forth at the age of perhaps four months, they have developed wonderfully and would hardly be recognized as the tiny blind cubs of a few weeks before.
When the old bears first come forth from hibernation they eat very little for two or three weeks. Their long fast and the inactivity of the vital organs have greatly weakened the digestive parts, so they must have time in which to recover, before they are made to do the hard work of digesting flesh and bone. The bear, therefore, wisely contents himself with grass and browse, living very much as a deer would, until his digestive organs have regained their usual tone, when he will gorge himself upon the first victim that he is lucky enough to catch.
If Bruin lives in the vicinity of civilization, he would prefer to break his fast with tender young pig. Pig, to the bear, is what 'possum is to the negro. He will travel for miles and take risks that he does not often expose himself to, if thereby he can secure a squealing porker.
The sire and dam do not hibernate together and they are seen together only during a few weeks of their honeymoon.
Winter quarters are usually found under a fallen tree-top, or in some natural den in the rocks. If a suitable place cannot be secured, the bear will even do some excavating on his own account, but they generally choose a den that nature has provided.
The smaller bears which are usually known as the black bear, are found to be both black and brown. Cubs of both colors will often be discovered with the same mother, but the brown variety is not found east of the Mississippi River. The really black bear also varies in color with the seasons, being darker and glossier in the cold months.
To see a bear really enjoy himself is to discover him in the blueberry lot, standing upon his hind legs, swooping the berries into his mouth with ravenous delight. At such a time his grin of benevolence is very apparent.
The cubs den up with the old bear the first fall, but usually shift for themselves when the new cubs come, although it is not an infrequent sight to see an old bear with two sizes of cubs following her.
As a rule, the different varieties of black bear are not dangerous. While they will occasionally charge the hunter when wounded, they usually flee away at their best pace when danger appears.
Even when interested with berry-picking or hunting, the bear is watchful and wary and as his scent and hearing are of the keenest, he is hard to surprise. It is probably true that his eyesight is not as keen as his other senses.
The black bear is hunted both on the still hunt, and with dogs. When dogs are employed, a large pack is used, and they merely run the bear until it is treed or brought to bay, when it is shot by the hunter. Dogs are of little, if any, use in hunting grizzlies.
There are several varieties of large bears, probably all variations of grizzlies, which are differentiated locally. Some of these are the roachback, the silver tip, the California grizzly, the plains bear, the smut-face, etc.
In the olden days before the grizzly became wise, he would charge anything that walked either on two or four feet. But he has now learned all about firearms, and is as willing to run from the hunter, as is his cousin, the black bear.
The bear's manner of hunting large game is usually by ambush. As most of his victims are more fleet of foot than he, he does not undertake to run them down in the open, but if he can get them at disadvantage in thick cover, or at the lick, this is his opportunity.
In the Adirondack country and in Northern Maine, it is a common sight to see a young bear about a farmhouse, where he is as much at home as the farm-dog. Many of the summer hotels, in this region, keep a tame bear to amuse the visitors.
These bears are obtained as cubs from any one who is fortunate enough to discover a bear's den and who has the good luck to find the old bear away from home and the cubs at his mercy.
A likely cub can usually be obtained in either Maine or Northern New York for five or ten dollars.
Bears occasionally stray down the Green Mountains into Western Massachusetts, where they inhabit the Hoosac Mountains, which are a continuation of this range.
Very recently a bear was killed near October Mountain, upon Mr. Whitney's extensive game-preserve. He had been hanging about the mountain all summer and had given two belated pedestrians a lively sprint only the night before his Waterloo. Being emboldened by the seeming servility of the neighborhood, bruin finally went to a farmhouse and, forcing the kitchen door, marched boldly into the well-ordered room to see what they were going to have for dinner. While waiting for this meal, he amused himself by tumbling the pots and pans about. This enraged the thrifty housewife, who seized a double-barreled shotgun standing in the corner and discharged both barrels simultaneously at the intruder. When the smoke cleared away, it was discovered that she had bagged a bear weighing three hundred pounds.
The dancing bear of song and story, as well as of real life, has long been the delight of children, but he is not now seen as frequently as of yore. Bears in the circus to-day play a minor part in the performance.
This short introductory chapter is the pedigree and characteristics in brief, of Ursus, the bear, whose varieties, like those of Reynard, the fox, are legion.
I have tried to give the reader some idea of the bear in general, but these facts about bruin must be varied as the climate varies between the arctic regions and the tropics. If a meat diet makes man cross and brutal, and a fruit and vegetable diet makes him amiable and indolent, they affect bruin in the same manner.
But wherever you find a bear, be he a grizzly, black, or polar, basking in the tropical sun, or freezing upon the ice-floe, he will still be the same droll old chap, shuffling and shambling, sniffing and inquiring with his keen nose. If he be the smaller black or brown bear, he will often be found in the company of man, conducting himself with dignity, and generally showing much good behavior for a wild beast.
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
Outside, the fitful early April wind howled dismally, swaying the leafless branches of the old elm, and causing them to rub complainingly against the gable end of the farmhouse. Two or three inches of fine snow had fallen the day before and the wind tossed it about gleefully, festooning the window-sashes and piling it high upon window-sills. It was one of old winter's last kicks and made it seem even more wintry than it really was.
Although the wind moaned and the snow danced fitfully, within a certain quaint farmhouse in Northern New York was warmth and comfort, all the more apparent by the touch of winter outside.
A cheerful fire was crackling in a large kitchen range, suggesting, by its brightness and snapping, pine-knots full of pitch and resin. The front doors of the stove were open and the firelight danced across the room, filling it with cheer. It was one of those homelike kitchens where everything is spick and span, and the nickel on the stove shines like silver.
A young farmer of perhaps thirty years was sitting with his shoes off and his heels toasting upon the hearth, while his wife, a pretty, rosy-cheeked country girl, of about his own age, sat in a large splint-bottom chair, sewing. If it needed one more thing to complete the cozy picture of simple, wholesome country life, it was not wanting, for just at the wife's elbow was a cradle, which she occasionally jogged with her foot, giving it just enough motion to keep it swaying gently. In the cradle slumbered the heir of the household and the link of pure gold that bound these two lives together.
Everything in the room breathed contentment. The kettle hummed and sputtered, sending forth its white cloud of steam, while the kitchen clock ticked off the pleasant moments.
The man was deeply interested in the weekly paper for which he had just driven to the office, but he occasionally stopped to take a bite out of a large red Baldwin apple that he found in a dish on the table near by.
He was so engrossed in local items that he did not hear his wife's excited question until it was repeated for the second time.
"John, what is that?" she asked.
"What is what?" he replied, laying down his paper that he might give his full attention to her inquiry.
"That noise on the piazza," she answered in a low tone.
"I don't hear any noise," returned the man; but almost as he spoke a slow shambling step made the floor-boards of the old piazza creak and a heavy hand was laid upon the door.
"Hello, who's there?" asked the man, for he could think of no one who would be calling at the hour of nine, which is really late in a farming community.
But there was no reply to his inquiry, only the sound of a heavy step moving up and down in front of the door.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" repeated the young farmer in an irritated tone, for he was both surprised and annoyed by the intrusion.
For answer, the kitchen door began creaking and straining as though great force was being exerted on it from the outside, and before the astonished couple could exchange glances of amazement and incredulity, with a mighty crash it tumbled in upon them, bringing one door-jamb with it, and fell with a bang upon the floor.
But the most astonishing thing of all was the figure that stood drawn up to its full height in the doorway.
The man and woman sat as though petrified, amazement and fear written upon their pale faces, for there in the doorway, eyeing them intently, and with no thought of retreat, was a large black bear.
As the bear stood there, arms akimbo, bear fashion, her great white teeth showing through half-parted lips, and the strong claws suggesting what execution could be done by a well-directed blow, she was anything but a reassuring visitor.
The young farmer, feeling that something must be done to scare off this hair-raising intruder, leaped to his feet in sudden desperation, and, shouting at the top of his voice, seized the door and slammed it back into the casing with all his strength, bumping the bear's nose severely. Then he set his shoulder against it, and braced with all his might.
But his move was a bad one, for there was a short angry growl on the outside and the next instant the door, farmer and all went spinning across the room, the man falling heavily and striking against the stove in the fall, and the great shaggy monster at once followed up her advantage by shambling awkwardly into the room.
The woman screamed and fainted, and then a gust of wind from the open doorway blew out the light, leaving the kitchen in darkness.
For a few moments the only sounds heard in the room were the ticking of the clock, the humming of the teakettle, and the shambling steps of the bear as she prowled about. But both of the figures on the floor were unconscious of what was going on, while a bright stream of blood trickled from a deep cut in the man's forehead.
Finally he was aroused by a cold draft of air upon his head. He put his hand to his forehead and saw that it was dripping with a warm fluid. He then put his fingers into his mouth and tasted and knew that it was blood. Then full consciousness surged into his throbbing head and he remembered.
There was no animate sound in the room and a terrible foreboding chilled his heart. He listened for his wife's breathing, but no such sound reached his ears.
"Mary," he called in a whisper, "are you here?" But there was only the ticking of the clock and the hum of the kettle.
With an unspeakable fear he sprang to his feet, throwing off all caution and cried, "Mary," in a loud voice, but with no better results.
Then with a trembling hand he struck a match and by its feeble light saw his wife lying on the floor like one dead. Kneeling beside her he felt her pulse. It fluttered feebly and he knew she had only swooned. A dash of cold water soon revived her and she sat up and looked bewilderingly about.
There upon the floor lay the door with the shattered jamb beside it and in front of the stove was a bright pool of blood, but no bear was visible. Then the match went out and they were again in darkness.
Suddenly, with a paroxysm of fear, the woman sprang forward and clutched in the darkness for the cradle; then with a wild, pitiful, heartbroken cry, she fell to the floor.
"Mary, Mary, what is the matter?" cried the bewildered husband, trying with trembling fingers to strike another match.
A moment it sputtered and then burned bright, and by the fitful light the man beheld that which turned his blood to ice and his heart to stone. The cradle was empty, and the baby was gone.
When the sudden gust of wind from the open door blew out the light and left the room in darkness, the great she-bear was not as much inconvenienced as one might imagine, for the bear is something of a prowler at night, doing much thieving and hunting when the darkness screens its deeds, as he has a very good pair of night-eyes.
Being thus left in darkness, the great brute stepped gingerly about, taking care not to tread upon the two prostrate forms on the floor, until she came to the cradle. There she stooped and investigated, passing her tongue caressingly over the little sleeper's face. Then with her great clumsy paws she drew the blanket in which the baby had been wrapped about the sleeping child, and taking the loose ends in her teeth, swung it clear of the cradle and held it as though in a hammock.
Still standing erect, the bear edged carefully to the doorway, but once on the piazza, where she felt sure that the way was clear, she dropped on all fours, and started for the woods at a clumsy, shuffling trot. But clumsy as the gait was, it took her over the ground rapidly, and she was soon far into the forest.
The heartbroken mother, after being brought back to consciousness, could only sit and wring her hands and moan, "O John, John, my baby, my darling, I shall never see it again."
For a few moments the strong young man sat as though stunned by the suddenness of the blow. His brawny arms were nerveless; the heart had gone out of him, leaving him helpless as a little child. But presently his strong manhood asserted itself, and a bright glitter came into his keen, gray eyes.
"Mary," he said, almost roughly, "stop taking on so and listen to me. I am going after our child and with God's help I will bring him back." The realization of the hopelessness of it all nearly choked him, but he had to say something to quiet the look of misery and terror in his wife's eyes.
"I want you to stay right here until I come back. I am a strong man and a good shot and no harm will come to me. No matter how long I am gone, or how lonely you get, you are not to stir from the house. Do you hear?"
The young mother looked at him in a dazed manner as though she but half comprehended, but at last a look of understanding and eagerness came into her eyes.
"I am going too," she said.
The man had foreseen and feared this and had tried to forestall it.
"No," he said, roughly, "you cannot go. Stay right in this room until I return."
As he spoke he took down an old double-barreled gun, and drawing the shot in one barrel, rammed home a Minie ball that just fitted the bore. This was a rude makeshift for a rifle, but it was the best he could do.
Hastily slipping on his overcoat and cap, and tenderly kissing his wife, he passed out into the darkness, on his hazardous and almost hopeless mission. But before taking the trail, he went to the shed and aroused an old hound who was sleeping upon a door-mat inside.
"Here, Hecla," he called. "Come along. You may be of some help to me to-night."
Then tying a long piece of rope to the hound's collar, that she might not follow too fast, he said, "Here, Hecla, good dog," indicating the beast's track in the snow. "Sic, Si-c-c-c-c."
As the strong bear scent fumed into the old hound's nostrils, the hair rose upon her neck and she stood uncertain.
"Si-c-c-c-c," repeated the man sternly.
Reluctantly the hound took the trail, the man following close behind. Across the mowing and into the pasture, and straight for the deep woods, the track led.
The man groaned as he thought of the hopelessness of his task;—to follow a full-grown bear into the deep woods at night, and recover safely from its clutches a little child.
This was his only hope, though, so setting his teeth, and remembering the pale face of his wife, the terror in her eyes, and his promise to bring their boy back safely, he kept on swiftly and bravely.
Fifteen minutes brought man and dog to the woods, and without hesitation they plunged into its depths. It was not so easy going here as it had been in the open. The rope was always getting tangled in the underbrush, and a stop every few minutes to unloose it had to be made.
Sometimes the man plunged up to his waist in the snow where it lay deep in some hollow. Sometimes it was a dead limb lying across his path that sent him sprawling. Occasionally the underbrush lashed his face and tore his skin. But these were little things. Somewhere in the interminable woods a great brute of a bear was perhaps at this very moment—he dared not finish the thought, he could only groan.
For half an hour they floundered forward, now slipping and sliding, and now falling, but always up and on again.
At last, when the man was almost winded, and his breath was coming in quick gasps, a faint, far-off cry floated down to him through the ghostly aisles of the naked wind-swept forest. At first it was so faint as to be almost unintelligible, but as they pressed on, it grew louder and clearer, until the man recognized the pitiful wailing of a baby.
"Thank God!" he gasped, "my boy is still alive."
By this time the old hound had fairly warmed up to the chase and was tugging on the rope and whining eagerly.
To let the dog go on now might frighten the bear and thus defeat the whole undertaking, so the man tied her to a sapling, and, bidding her keep quiet, crept cautiously forward.
A hundred feet farther on, the cries from the child grew louder. A moment more and he caught sight of the bear leaning up against a large beech, holding the baby in her strong arms.
To the agonized father's great surprise the bear's attitude looked almost maternal; she seemed indeed to be trying in her brute way to soothe the infant. She caressed its face with her nose, and lapped it with her long, soft red tongue. If it had been one of her own cubs she could not have shown more concern.
So much the frantic father noted, while he stood irresolute, uncertain what to do next. The bear would have been an easy shot by daylight, if there had been no baby to consider. But there was that little bundle of humanity, the man's own flesh and blood, and a bullet in order to pierce the bear's heart must strike within a few inches of the baby's head. The task that King Gessler set William Tell, was child's play compared with this. To shoot might mean to kill his own child, and not to shoot might mean a still more terrible death for the infant.
The child's wails now grew louder and more frequent. The old bear became uneasy; in another moment she might flee farther into the woods, or worse than that, might silence the little one with a blow or a crunch of her powerful jaws.
The desperate man raised his gun. The fitful moonlight shimmered and danced upon the barrel, and the shadows from the tree-tops alternated with the dancing moonbeams. He could see the sight but dimly and, added to all this, was the thought that the gun was not a rifle, with an accurate bullet, but an old shotgun loaded with a Minie ball.
At first, his arms shook so that he could not hold the gun steady, but by a mighty effort he nerved himself. For a second the moon favored him; a moment the sight glinted just in front of the bear's left shoulder, frightfully close to his child's head, and then he pressed the trigger.
A bright flame leaped from the muzzle of the old gun; its roar resounded frightfully through the aisles of the naked woods, and its last echo was followed by the startled cry of the infant.
Dropping the gun in the snow, the man bounded forward, drawing a long knife from his belt as he ran. Four or five frantic bounds carried him to the foot of the beech, where the bear had stood when he fired.
There in the snow lay the enormous black form, and close beside it in a snowdrift, still nicely wrapped in its blanket, was the child, apparently without a scratch upon it.
A WILDERNESS BABY
When the young farmer beheld the great hulk of the black bear lying motionless at the foot of the beech, and saw his child lying unharmed in the snow, his eye, that had been so keen at the moment of peril, grew dim and his senses swam, like one upon a high pinnacle, about to fall.
But it was only for a second. His strong nerves soon restored him, and he stooped and picked up the baby, although he was so blinded with glad tears that he had to grope for the precious bundle.
What a miracle it was, he thought; only the watchful care of a special Providence could have steadied his hand for that desperate shot. The more he considered, the more miraculous it seemed, and with a heart welling up with praise and gratitude, he silently thanked God for the deliverance, then woke the leafless forest with a glad, "Halloo."
This was intended for the old hound, and she at once responded with a quick succession of joyous barks.
The man had been a little uncertain of the direction home, as he had followed the trail feverishly, but the dog's greeting at once set him right. Shielding the baby in his arms, and picking out as good footing as he could in the uncertain light, he made all haste back to his faithful canine, whose whines and barks guided him from time to time.
"It's all right, Hecla, old girl, I've got him," he cried as soon as he came within speaking distance of the dog. The father's joy was so great that he had to impart it to some one.
He lost no time in untying the dog and with her as a guide they were able to follow the homeward trail through the darkest places in safety. He must make all possible haste, for he remembered the look of mute agony in his wife's eyes, as she stood at the door watching his departure.
"Home, home, Hecla!" he cried, each time they plunged into deeper gloom than usual. "We must hurry."
But the good dog needed no urging. Out and in, unerringly, she led him, until the open pasture lot was reached.
Then with a glad bark she bounded over the stone wall and started across the fields at a pace that her master could not keep. He did not call her back, for he felt sure that she could impart the glad news to her mistress before his coming, and anything to relieve the suspense at home was desirable.
While the two had been floundering through the deep woods upon their seemingly hopeless quest, the grief-stricken mother had paced the kitchen floor, wringing her hands and moaning. Occasionally, as the moments dragged slowly by, she would go to the piazza and listen until it seemed that her ear-drums would burst with the intensity of her effort, but only the moaning of the wind, and the usual night sounds came to her ears.
At last, in one of these anxious periods of listening, she thought she detected the barking of old Hecla, but was not certain. Perhaps it was only the wind playing pranks upon her overwrought nerves, or the hooting of an owl.
She waited expectantly and a few seconds later, hearing the old hound's glad bark as she bounded over the wall between the pasture and the mowing, knew that John had sent her with a message for the mistress of Clover-hill Farm. There was something in the dog's bark that put hope into her heart, and she ran to meet her.
"Hecla, Hecla, old friend, what is it?" cried the mother, as the faithful canine, panting from the hard run, capered breathlessly about her mistress, wagging her tail and quivering with excitement.
"Can't you tell me, Hecla? Is my baby safe?"
For answer the dog gave several glad barks, and barking and capering, plainly invited her mistress to follow her and see that she brought good news.
The mother, whose arms seemed so empty, was only too glad to do this. It had only been because of her husband's stern command and for fear that her presence might defeat the enterprise, that she had stayed at home at all.
With the trained sight of a woodsman, John saw them coming long before his wife saw him, and he hallooed to them at the top of his voice.
"It's all right, mother," he cried, "I've got little John."
A few seconds later he placed the baby in its mother's arms and sank down in the snow exhausted from his long, hard run.
When he had recovered his breath and had gasped out a few words of explanation, all hurried back to the farmhouse, the old dog leading the way.
In half an hour's time the cozy kitchen was righted. The door had been rehung and the accustomed warmth and good cheer had returned to the room, where the kettle hummed and the clock ticked just as though nothing had happened.
But to the young couple, who sat by the fireside talking it over, that last half hour seemed like a nightmare.
The following morning, when the first faint streak of daylight was whitening the east, the young farmer and his faithful dog again took the trail for the woods.
How different was their going now, from that of the night before! Then, an awful fear had gripped the man's heart, and the sympathetic dog had felt her master's misery; but now, the man's step was quick and joyous, and the dog bounded about him with barks of delight.
The tracks made the night before were still quite plain, and they soon came to the beech where the bear had stood when the hair-raising shot was made. There lay the great carcass in the snow just as it had the night before.
The coat was long and glossy, of a deep black on the outside, and rather lighter on the under side. Her forearms were strong and her claws were most ample. Her jaw was massive, and altogether she was a beast that one would not care for a close acquaintance with, especially if she thought her young were in danger.
It was useless to think of moving the prize without a team, so the exultant farmer went home for a horse and a sled, and in half an hour's time the huge bear was lying upon the porch of the farmhouse.
News of the startling event spread rapidly and half a dozen neighbors gathered to see the bear weighed. To the astonishment of all, she tipped the beam at three hundred pounds, which is a few pounds short of the record for the largest she-bear ever weighed.
Two of the neighbors helped remove the fine skin and received some bear-steak in return for their labor.
Late in the afternoon, the now famous hunter again shouldered his gun and set off for the woods, followed by old Hecla. He was not satisfied in his own mind, that they had found out all there was to know about the strange appearance of the bear at the farmhouse. If there should be more "goods in the case," as he expressed it, so much the better; but if not, he would keep his own counsel and no one would suspect that he had been upon a second bear-hunt.
He went directly to the tree where the dead bear had lain, and examined the snow carefully. He soon found a well-defined trail that led farther back into the woods. This he followed easily, and it brought him to an old fallen hemlock, which was partly covered with snow. The tracks led into the deepest, thickest portion of the top and there ended at the mouth of a burrow that had been tunneled down underneath.
The hunter got a long pole and prodded about in the tree-top until he satisfied himself that there was nothing formidable inside. Then setting his gun against a tree trunk, he crawled into the burrow.
He had entered only three or four feet, when a weak, pitiful whine greeted his ears. "Just as I thought," he muttered. "There are cubs here."
A few feet farther down he found them,—two astonishingly small bear-cubs. One whined pitifully and struggled to his feet as though in anticipation of supper, but the other was cold and stiff. It had evidently been dead for some time.
The excited bear-hunter took them both in his arms and clambered out of the den, feeling well repaid for his search.
Holding the cub that was still alive under his coat for warmth and protection from the wind, he hurried home, while the hound leaped about him and sniffed suspiciously at his coat.
His wife was sitting in the cozy kitchen sewing, and occasionally jogging the cradle, when he entered and, without a word of explanation, dropped the live cub in her lap.
"O John," she cried, "what a dear little dog he is. Where did you get him?"
"Under an old tree-top in the woods," he replied. "It isn't a puppy, it is a bear-cub.
"Here is his brother," and he held up the dead cub for her inspection. "I guess the old bear came round and stole your baby to take the place of her dead cub. There are tracks behind the house where she came up to the window and stood upon her hind legs and looked in. Sort of taking inventory, as you might say."
The woman went to the north kitchen window and to her great astonishment saw that her husband had not been joking. There were bear-tracks, and also two large paw-prints upon the window-sill that told of a silent watcher of their domestic fireside.
A box was brought from the wood-shed and lined with an old blanket, and milk was warmed for the little wilderness baby, that had found its way so strangely into the farmhouse.
It was ravenously hungry and the man held it, while the wife poured warm milk, a few drops at a time, into its mouth. At first the process was rather laborious, but after a few hours the young bear would gulp down the warm milk gladly.
Thus the bear-cub began his life at the farmhouse, lying in a warm box behind the stove and drinking milk from a saucer. Most of his days and nights he spent in sleeping, as is the wont of young animals, and this was nature's sure way of making him strong and sleek.
The following Saturday the farmer went to town, where he was much lionized as a bear-hunter and the whole story had to be told over and over to each one he met. That night at the supper-table he remarked to his wife that he had seen Dave Holcome, a famous trapper and bear-hunter in his day, and had asked him what he thought about the bear's stealing the baby.
"What did he say?" inquired the wife, all interest.
"Wal," drawled her husband, in exact imitation of Dave, "bars are durned curus critters, almost as curus as women. You can hunt and trap 'um all your life an' think you know all about 'um, then along will come a bar that will teach you difrunt. There ain't no use in makin' rules about bar ettyket, cuz ef you do, some miserable pig-headed bar will break 'um all ter smash, jest like this 'ere one did. But I think there is a good deal surer way uv accountin' for the critter's action than what you say. It's my idee that he mistook the baby for a young pig."
"The wretch," exclaimed the indignant wife, but her husband only laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks.
"You didn't get any mail, did you?" she asked, when his mirth had subsided.
"Yes, I did," he answered. "Here is a letter. I had forgotten all about it." The letter proved to be from a town thirty or forty miles to the north, and was as follows:
"DEAR SIR: I have been much interested in reading in our local paper the account of a strange visitor that you had at your house early in the week. I think I may be able to shed some light on that extraordinary event.
"About eight years ago I secured a bear-cub when it was still small and brought it up in my household. There was at the same time in my family a baby to which the cub became much attached. No dog was ever more devoted to a child, than was the bear-cub as the two grew up together. They were constant companions and were inseparable.
"Finally the bear became so strong a partisan of the child that she was really jealous of the rest of the family. She seemed to think that the child belonged to her. The second summer on several occasions the two strayed far from home. The bear seemed to like to toll the child away, where she could have it all to herself.
"One day when the boy refused to follow where its shaggy companion led, the bear fastened her teeth in the man-cub's clothes and carried her small master, kicking and protesting, to the woods, where both were found some hours later.
"I interfered at this point and shipped the bear away to a summer hotel, where they wanted something to amuse the visitors. She soon tired of the company and escaped to the wild.
"Now I am confident that our old Blackie and your bear are one and the same, but the matter is easily settled. Our bear had lost a toe on her left hind leg, the consequence of getting in front of the mowing machine in the tall grass when she was small. Please examine your specimen in this particular and let me hear from you."
"The riddle is solved," exclaimed the husband excitedly tossing the letter across the table to his wife. "I noticed the missing toe when I removed the skin. It is a great relief to have the matter cleared up."
THE CUBHOOD OF BLACK BRUIN
For several weeks the furry, fuzzy little bear in the box behind the kitchen stove did little but drink milk and sleep. If he did crawl out of his box on to the floor, it was simply to investigate the surroundings, and he would go about the room, poking his nose into all the corners, and sniffing suspiciously.
But by degrees as he grew stronger and sturdier he evinced much curiosity, playfulness and drollery, and to these characteristics would have to be added, when he became partly grown, a kind of bear sense of humor which was quite ludicrous.
His first playfellow was the pillow which he tumbled off the sofa one day. Having discovered that it was detachable, he always made for it as soon as the spirit of play seized him. He would toss and tumble it about, now standing it upon end and batting it over with his paw and then rolling it over and over on the floor.
The second object in the room that claimed his lasting attention was pussy, but she was much more animated than the sofa-pillow. The first time that the fuzzy little cub went up and smelted of her, she gave him a savage cuff on the nose, which sent him whining to his box, and he did not seek further acquaintance with pussy for several days.
He would stand and look at her for five minutes at a time. This made the cat very uneasy, and she would go about from place to place, trying to get away from those small, bright, inquiring eyes. At last the cub again got up courage to sniff at the old cat, and this time she did not cuff him.
As long as he was respectful, she did not mind him, but when he got too playful or subjected her to indignities, pussy retaliated with that sharp cuff on the nose, which always had the desired effect.
Black Bruin, or Whiney, as he was sometimes called when he was a small cub, soon learned to make his wants known. When he wished either milk or water, he would set up the most comical little whine, which was always effectual in getting it for him. One day he was given a saucer which had a little maple syrup in it, and his delight knew no bounds. After that he whined so long and frequently for syrup that he received his nickname of Whiney.
In the cool April evenings as they sat about the fire, the master would often lift the small bear upon his knee, and let him sniff about his clothing, and lick his hand with his long, narrow red tongue. Then he would roll and tumble him about and Black Bruin would make believe to bite at his master and chew at his sleeves. Finally, these evening romps got to be a regular part of the farm-life, as much enjoyed by the master, as by the cub.
When May came, and it was warmer, so that the doors leading to the wood-shed and the porch were left open, the little bear's world grew apace. Before, his horizon had been the four walls of the kitchen; now he could go and come as he pleased, about the yard and in the outbuildings.
He made the acquaintance of Hecla, the old hound, while he was still a prisoner in the kitchen, but they came to know each other better when the cub got out of doors. At first, the dog was inclined to attack the small bundle of bear-meat, but her master calmed her anger, and explained to her, as best he could, that Black Bruin was one of the family and should be treated with respect and consideration. So finally she became reconciled to his presence, but she never could get over his scent, which always filled her with suspicion.
When the cub got out of doors where he could run about and exercise, he began to grow very rapidly in stature. Before, he had been a football or a bundle of fur, but now he began to put on the semblance of a bear.
He also developed a great genius for mischief. If I should tell of all the things he overturned or upset, this chapter would be endless.
A naturalist, who has reared several bear-cubs, says, "If you have an enemy, give him a bear-cub. His punishment will be adequate, no matter what his offense." But the young farmer and his wife did not think so, and as for the baby who was now learning to walk, "Bar-Bar," as he called the young bruin, was a never-ending source of delight.
He would bury his wee hands in the fuzzy hair of the cub and pull with all his might, and the cub would growl with make-believe fury, but it seemed to know that the baby did not intend to hurt it, and did not offer to bite. When the baby pulled its ears too hard, it would simply run away.
Outside, in the farmyard, among the chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, at first the cub was rather shy, for the gobbler turkey, the gander and the rooster all set upon him and drove him whining into the woodshed; but he soon learned that all were afraid of his paws, when he stood upon his hind legs and really hit out with them, so after that discovery, he was master of all the feathered folk about the farmhouse.
All about the farm-buildings the little bear followed his master. But best of all he liked to go to the stable and watch the milking, for in one corner was a small dish, into which he knew a pint of warm milk would be poured as soon as milking was done.
One morning the farmer heard a great noise in the hen-house. The hens were kedacuting for dear life and he hastened to the scene of the disturbance. What he discovered was both ludicrous and annoying, for there by one of the nests was his small bear in the act of pawing out an egg, while the empty shell of another upon the ground told only too plainly that he had discovered the use of eggs.
After that the hen-house was never quite safe from him. Whenever he was caught inside, he was punished, but hens' nests that he found out-of-doors were considered his natural plunder.
June came, and the latter part of the month the bear-shadow followed its master into the hayfield. Here it made a discovery that was much to its liking.
The bear was sniffing about as usual, poking his nose into all the holes and bushes, when a low humming in the grass near by caught his ear.
It was a sound that has made bears smile ever since the first bear licked up his first taste of honey. So Black Bruin crept cautiously forward to investigate. As he advanced, the humming grew louder and presently a small fury darted out at him.
It was not much larger than a fly, but it gave him such a pin-prick in the nose that he was angry, and so struck it down into the grass, and crushed the life out of it with his swift paw. Then he crept closer to the humming and buzzing, which was now quite ominous. Soon more of the little furies came buzzing out, all of which he killed as he had the first.
When the bee-hunter had crushed the dozen bees comprising the nest, he dug down to the secret hidden in the roots of the grass and found that it was much sweeter than the maple syrup which they had given him at the farmhouse. The nest was also full of white eggs or grubs which were quite palatable. After that day, Black Bruin was a persistent hunter for bumblebees' nests.
From the bumblebees' nest to the hives of the honeybees in the orchard back of the house was a very natural step, but the farmer had not dreamed that the bear would discover the secret of the small white houses.
One afternoon he heard a great humming of the bees in the orchard, and, thinking they were swarming, put on his bee-veil and went to investigate. The sight that met his eyes filled him with both mirth and wrath. There upon the ground was one of the hives overturned and pulled apart. Many of the partly filled sections were thus exposed, while others were empty of both comb and honey.
The thief, who was none other than Black Bruin, was holding up a section between his paws, while with his supple red tongue he licked out the contents. Although the bees were swarming about him in a black cloud and doing their best to punish the thief, he paid little attention to them but licked away for dear life.
Upon his droll countenance was a look of such supreme delight, that the angry farmer ended by laughing heartily; but after that experience he surrounded the beehives with a stout barbed wire fence.
About the middle of July, or perhaps a little later, a neighbor's children took Black Bruin to the blueberry lot.
They had often romped and played with him, and he was glad to go, although he could not be coaxed to follow a stranger. He shuffled along in his droll bear manner, often stopping to sniff under a stone or in some corner, where his wild instinct told him that there might be something interesting.
Arrived at the berry-field, the children began picking and for a time Bruin sat upon his haunches and watched them, his red tongue lolling out, for it was a hot mid-summer day.
Finally, one of the children picked a handful of berries and offered them to their four-footed companion, thinking it would be a good joke upon him. To their surprise, he not only lapped up the berries with keen satisfaction, but asked in plain bear language for more.
He was so much pleased with the flavor of the new food that he finally put his long red tongue into their pails, and they had to box his ears severely. Then he went and sat down a little way off, seemingly much abused.
Soon the children heard a noise in a bush near by, as if some one was picking, so they went to investigate. They found Black Bruin standing upon his hind legs, while with both paws and his long tongue he scooped the blueberries into his wide-open mouth. He was bending and thrashing the bush about to get it where he wanted it, and did not see that he was observed. Upon his droll bear face was written deep delight, for another of earth's riches had yielded to his inquisitive nose and paws.
After that he was often one of the party when the children went berrying, but if the berries were scarce they preferred to leave him at home. He was quite independent, however, and often went berrying by himself.
Blackberries he managed in the same manner, but when the thorns pricked his tongue, he would growl and look astonished, as much as to say, "Now what does that mean? I didn't see a bee about."
Black Bruin also made other interesting discoveries in the pasture. One day, either by chance or design, he turned over a small rotten log and found that on the under side it was swarming with ants and grubs. Then how his tongue did fly as he licked them up and how the ants scampered in every direction trying to hide before he should get them!
But ants and grubs were not the only game under the logs. One day when he had turned over a larger log than usual, he was astonished to see a tiny four-footed creature run squeaking out. Black Bruin hopped clumsily after the field-mouse. Pat, pat went his heavy paws, but the mouse ran this way and that, dodging and squeaking, and several times he missed, although by this time he was quite expert with his paws. Finally he landed fairly upon the poor mouse, and its life was crushed out. Then he swooped it into his hungry mouth, and found it much better than grubs and ants. After that, whenever a mouse ran out from under a log or stone that he overturned, he made a desperate effort to get it.
One day while sniffing about a hollow log, as was his wont, the bear discovered still a new scent that was neither grubs, ants nor field-mice, so he began tearing the log apart, for it was quite rotten.
He had been at work but a few minutes, when with a great chipping a small striped animal, several times larger than the field-mouse, ran between his legs and scurried away in the grass. Although much astonished, the bear hurried in hot pursuit. This little creature, like the mouse, ran hither and thither, dodging and twisting. Finally after several misses, he landed his paw squarely upon it and the hunter had bagged his first chipmunk.
This game was so much larger than the field-mouse that he thought it well worth while, and after that whenever he scented a chipmunk about a log or stone wall, he would spend an hour, if need be, until he was satisfied that he could not get at it.
Finally the summer passed and the autumn came, and the bear-cub followed the children to the woods for chestnuts, beech-nuts and walnuts.
He, too, learned the secret of the sweet meat under the hard exterior. Beechnuts he would discover and eat by himself, but walnuts and butternuts he could not crack, and as for chestnuts, he wanted them taken out of their prickly jackets before he could eat them. Here in the deep woods the bear also discovered several roots which were to his liking, so he was always nosing about in the dead leaves, for if he didn't find nuts, he would find roots.
Thus passed the cubhood of Black Bruin, and, from a fuzzy mite, whining for his saucer of milk, he grew into a sturdy cub, strong and self-reliant, able to forage and hunt for himself.
Without training from any parent, he learned some of the things that it was necessary for him to know in the fields and forest. Thus the instinct of his bear ancestors asserted its power in the pampered and spoiled pet of the farmhouse, and if he had chosen, he could probably have taken care of himself as a real wild bear. But he did not care to do so, although he had every chance to run away; there was something always calling to him at the farmhouse.
The people there had been good to him. In the wood-shed was his nest, and no matter how far away he roamed during the daytime, night always found him back at the house, begging for milk, and taking caresses at the farmer's hands.
These good people had been so large a part of his helpless days that he could not leave them now, although the deep green depths of the woods were probably calling to him, as this was his natural home.
A ROLLICKING ROGUE
About Thanksgiving time Black Bruin suddenly disappeared, and although the premises were searched, no trace of him could be found.
Finally, after two or three days, his master gave up the hunt, concluding that the bear had obeyed the wild instinct in his nature and returned to the woods. He had no doubt that he was snugly curled up in some hollow tree where he would sleep away the winter months. Whether he would ever return to them or not, was a matter of conjecture.
All the family mourned his loss, especially the baby, who cried half a day for "Bar-Bar," as he called the bear.
One cold December evening when the farmer was bedding down the horse, he imagined he heard a deep, steady breathing under the barn floor, and after listening for some time, was sure of it. His first thought was that some neighbor's dog had gone under the barn to sleep, so he went and lifted up a trap-door that led to the cellar, which was not deep.
He whistled for the dog to come out, but no dog appeared. He could still hear the breathing and was much mystified by it, so he got a lantern and went under the barn to settle his doubts.
To his great astonishment he found Black Bruin curled up in one corner, nearly covered with old hay that he had scraped together for the purpose.
He was very sleepy, and only grunted when the man touched him with his foot and spoke to him. As he seemed well content with the winter quarters that he had selected, the man left him and went back to his chores.
Not until the middle of March did he again appear, although different members of the family often went to the trap-door and called for him to come out. He seemed to be obeying a strongly rooted habit in the bear nature, and he doubtless knew what was best for a sturdy cub like himself.
One warm March morning the mistress thought she heard some one in the back room, and supposing that a neighbor had come in, opened the door.
The intruder was no stranger to the family, for there was Black Bruin, standing on his hind legs, licking off the sticky outside of a maple-syrup pail. He had remembered his old delight in syrup.
Perhaps he had even got a whiff of the sweet on the spring air, and his nose had told him what was going on. The bear's scent is very keen, and this and his acute hearing make up for his poor eyesight.
Black Bruin, on his reappearance, was at once taken back into the family's affection, and petted and spoiled, all of which seemed to suit him admirably.
For a week or two, however, he would eat very little, and appeared to come to his appetite gradually. At first the good people thought he was sick, but an old woodsman explained to them that the bear was always fastidious after hibernation. In the wild state he will eat only buds and grasses, and perhaps a very few roots. He is wise, after the way of the wild beasts, and knows that his digestive organs are not in condition to do hard work; but when the right hour comes, he will have a meal that will make up for much fasting.
The roguishness and capacity for mischief that Black Bruin had shown during his first year of cubhood, increased tenfold, as he grew older and stronger.
Tree-climbing, which he had learned late in the summer of his first year, became a passion with him. He climbed the elms and the maples along the road and the fruit trees in the orchard. In the barn, too, he clambered about on the scaffolds and pried into all the corners with his inquisitive nose.
A neighbor's boy often came to the farmhouse to romp and wrestle with the bear-cub. Nothing pleased him more than a rough-and-tumble, and he was quite an expert wrestler, once he learned how to floor his adversary.
Whenever two or three boys came into the farmyard, if Black Bruin was anywhere about, he would shuffle up to them and rearing upon his hind legs, invite them, in the plainest language, "to come on."
His master also taught him to hold a broom in his arms in imitation of a gun, and march up and down like a soldier. When this feat was performed by their shaggy friend, the children would shout with delight, at which the cub would loll out his tongue and seem greatly pleased. He appeared to understand clearly that they thought him the smartest bear in the world.
His old trick of hunting for hens' nests now recurred to him, and he returned to it with renewed zest. In fact, Black Bruin seemed not to forget any of his many forms of mischief, but rapidly acquired new ones as well.
He not only hunted hens' nests outside, but frequently broke into the hen-house, just like any other chicken thief, and ate eggs freely.
He always skulked into a corner when caught and seemed to expect the thrashing that he got for such thieving.
He followed the farm-hands into the hay-field, as he had done the year before, to look for bumblebees' nests, but he was not content with lawful plunder.
One day the haymakers took their dinner to a distant field where they expected to spend the day. All went well until the dinner-hour came, when it was discovered that Black Bruin had tipped over the coffee jug, pulled out the cork, and probably licked up the sweetened fluid. He had also opened the dinner-basket, and only a few crumbs and some pickles remained of what would have been dinner for three men.
To add insult to injury, the vagabond was lying asleep upon the farmer's coat which he had thrown upon the ground, having a fine nap after his hearty meal.
There was nothing to do but for all hands to go back to the farmhouse for dinner.
The farmer had surrounded his beehives with a strong, high, barbed wire fence, and had thought them quite safe even from the prying curiosity of his bear-cub, but one day he found out differently.
On hearing a great humming about the hives, as though the bees were swarming, he went to investigate. There in the midst of the hives was the old honey thief. He had dug a hole in the ground and had crawled under the barbed wire fence. Two of the hives were overturned and pulled to pieces, and the contents of half a dozen sections licked out.
This was almost too much to bear, but the good-natured farmer dug a trench under the fence, and placed another barbed wire lower down, and the bees were safe for a time.
Sweet apples and pears were also to Black Bruin's liking. This was all right in itself, but it led to other things.
One summer morning while the farmer was milking, he was startled by hearing apples coming down in showers from the Golden Sweet tree back of the barn. Thinking that some mischievous boy had climbed the tree and was shaking off apples for sport, he rushed into the back yard, determined to punish the offender severely.
"Here, you rascal," he shouted as he neared the tree, "what in the world are you trying to do?"
The shaking in the tree ceased immediately, but at first the man could not locate the truant. Finally he discovered Black Bruin away up in the top of the tree, where he was well screened by the thick foliage.
"Come down here," cried the farmer in considerable wrath. "Come down here and I'll give you a good drubbing."
Black Bruin clearly understood from the man's tone that he was angry, so he stayed where he was.
The man then threw apples at him, but they had no more effect upon the culprit than did the grass upon the bad boy in the fable; so the farmer got a long pole and prodded the apple thief until he whined and came scratching down the tree.
Black Bruin was very fond of the Golden Sweets, especially when they were baked, and probably thinking that there were not enough on the ground for family use, he had taken matters into his own hands. He seemed very penitent, however, so the family finally forgave him, as they had done so many times before.
When the following week he tried the same tactics upon a winter pear-tree, the consequences were more serious. Black Bruin not only got a good drubbing for the prank, but his master secured a dog-collar and chained him to a maple-tree in the yard.
For a while he pulled and sulked, but finally, seeing that it was useless, he yielded to the chain. He would beg so hard, though, to be let loose whenever any one went through the yard, that he was always allowed to be unchained and go free, when the family were about and could watch him.
Once the chain and collar, together with the bear's uneasiness, nearly cost the cub's life. He would climb up the tree to which he was tied as far as the chain would allow him to go, and, while playing various antics on the lower limbs of the tree, he fell. The chain was on one side of the limb and he was on the other, where he dangled like a culprit on the gallows.
He kicked and choked and tried desperately to catch the limb with his fore-paws, but it was just out of reach and there seemed nothing for him to do but strangle.
The tighter the collar grew and the shorter became his breath the more he kicked and thrashed, until finally the collar broke, and the half-strangled bear fell to the ground with a great thud. Feeling that he had been cruelly treated and insulted, he picked himself up with a groan and a growl, and making for the woods, was not seen again for two days.
Finally Black Bruin returned to his friends, having had enough of wild life for that time. He seemed delighted to see them again and wanted to be petted more than ever, and, as if to make amends for his recent bad behavior, was very good for a couple of weeks.
One day the farmer took a super of honey from one of the hives in the back yard, and, as a sort of reward of merit, gave Black Bruin a pound for his share.
This was an imprudent act upon the part of the bear's master, for honey to the bear is what whisky is to the drunkard. Not that it intoxicated him, but he craved it with an almost insatiate desire.
This pound was but a taste, so he fell to watching the hives again and perhaps plotting as to how he might get at their contents. But the hives seemed quite safe. They were surrounded by a barbed wire fence six feet high. They were located under a broad spreading apple-tree, however, and this fact gave Black Bruin his chance.
He waited until the farmer had gone to a distant field to work, then climbed into the tree, and out on a long limb that overhung the hives.
The limb bent lower and lower until it nearly touched the barbed wire fence, but it was just strong enough for him to make the spring and land in the midst of the hives.
The good housewife heard the humming and buzzing as the bees swarmed out to punish the intruder, and looking out of the back window, discovered the thief.
Not much damage had been done, as he had been detected almost at the outset; but one thing was now certain; the hives would not be safe from Black Bruin any longer.
So the farmer repaired the broken collar and again secured the bear to the maple, and once more he took up the life of a convict.
But it must not be imagined that Black Bruin led a very lonely life even upon the chain, for the children frequently took him berrying, or to the deep woods for nuts.
When the apples had been picked and most of the honey taken from the hives, he was again given the freedom of the place to come and go as he wished.
But the very worst of all Black Bruin's mischief and thieving came about the second week in November, when he had been upon his good behavior for several weeks, and the family hoped that he had reformed.
One night the household was awakened by the most violent and persistent squealing of a pig. It did not seem to be any of the pigs at the farm, but the sound came from down the road and it steadily drew nearer to the buildings.
What it all meant the farmer could not imagine, so he hurriedly dressed and went out-of-doors to find out.
He was just in time to see Black Bruin come shambling into the yard carrying a pig, of perhaps twelve pounds' weight, in his mouth. He was holding him by one hind leg and the load was so heavy that the culprit could barely keep the poor pig's nose from dragging on the ground.
The farmer at once went to his assistance and rescued him, to the great disgust of Black Bruin, who growled and plainly gave his master to understand that he considered the pig his own property. He had not got him out of the home sty, so that his master had no right to interfere.
Again Black Bruin paid the penalty for misbehavior and was chained up, while next morning, the farmer had the humiliation of carrying the pig home.
After about a week more of life upon the chain, the culprit slipped his collar and disappeared. This time the farmer remembered his disappearance of the fall before and finally looked under the barn, where he found him curled up for his winter's sleep.
THE LIFE OF A DANCING-BEAR
About the first of April, the third year of his adventurous life, a sense of something that he craved was borne in upon the deep slumber of Black Bruin, or perhaps it was only the returning warmth that awakened him.
In either event he awoke, yawned, stretched himself and turned about in his nest under the horse-barn. He felt stiff and cramped, as one had a right to, who had been sleeping since about Thanksgiving time.
Finally he got up, and going to a crack in the cellar wall, sniffed the breeze, which came in quite freely. This was always his way when he wanted to find out what was going on. His nose was a much surer guide in most matters than his eyesight.
What the fresh spring wind told him was evidently to his liking, for his tongue lolled out, his mouth dripped saliva, and he went at once to the trap-door leading upstairs, and pushed it open with his shoulder.
In the cozy farmhouse kitchen, an event that fills the heart of the average country boy or girl with delight, was in progress.
Upon the kitchen range was placed a large galvanized iron syrup-pan. In it was three or four inches of golden maple syrup, which danced and steamed and broke in little mountains of yellow bubbles, something the color of sunlight.
This was the amber toll from the rock-maple, discovered long ago by the Indian, whose primitive methods have been so greatly improved upon by the white man. But there are still very remote places in Canada, where the old-fashioned slash in the tree, into which a wedge is driven, has not been superseded by spiles and buckets.
Several of the neighborhood children were gathered at the farmhouse kitchen and jollity ran high.
Suddenly the door leading to the wood-shed flew open, and there in the doorway stood Black Bruin. With a shout of delight they rushed upon him, eager to greet and caress their wilderness pet.
For a week or two, as usual when coming forth from his long sleep, Black Bruin was rather inactive, and did not want much to eat; but by degrees his spirits returned, and it was evident from the size and strength now acquired, that he was to be more of a rogue and bother than he had ever been before.
But even his warmest admirers, the neighborhood children, who always took his part, no matter what he did, were not prepared for his next antic.
Of course it was impossible for his friends, who had not been sleeping and going without food for several months, to say just how hungry the culprit was, or how strong the blood lust was upon him.
There had been pig-killing at the farmhouse, and the bear had eaten some of the refuse meat. This had only whetted his appetite for more, so he did some pig-killing on his own account.
One morning a neighboring farmer, very much excited, rushed into the yard and accused Black Bruin of stealing a small pig that morning from his sty. Although the family protested stoutly that he must be mistaken, a search of the premises showed that their pet was missing.
The bear's master thought best to settle for the pig, but even then the neighbor was much put out, and promised to try the effect of a rifle upon the thief the next time he should appear.
The marauder did not return to the farmhouse all that day, but came slinking home late in the evening and went at once to his den in the wood-shed. Again he was chained to the maple in the front yard, and forced to live the life of a prisoner. But he was now getting so strong that any ordinary collar would not hold, and he soon broke away and again went upon a foraging expedition. This time his choice was mutton, and his master had to pay for a pet sheep that he had taken from a neighbor's back yard.
This was getting serious, and the bear's master was thinking of corresponding with the keeper of a zoo or menagerie, to see if he could give his troublesome pet away, when Pedro Alsandro appeared upon the scene, and the whole tenor of Black Bruin's life was changed.
Pedro was an Italian peddler, carrying two large packs. He was a small man with a swarthy olive-colored skin, and dark beady eyes, set rather too close together.
He appeared one warm April morning, and in the usual lingo of his kind, invited the good people at the farmhouse to "buy something."
When his pack had been overhauled and a few small purchases concluded, the peddler noticed Black Bruin, and he at once took his fancy. His greed was also appealed to by seeing the bear perform his tricks. Pedro had once owned a dancing-bear, but it had run away from him to escape harsh treatment.
"Why should I lug these heavy packs about," he thought, "when I could make twice the money, merely by leading this bear from town to town?"
So the Italian set to work to gain the confidence of the bear and as he had had considerable experience with his kind, it was not long before he had petted and bribed his way into Black Bruin's good-will.
"You buy someting me, I buy someting, this bear," he finally said to the farmer.
This proposition was greeted by some neighbors' children with a chorus of wails and the housewife too objected, but to the farmer, who was much perplexed to know what to do with the bear, it seemed like quite a Providential opening.
"What you do with him, Pedro?" he asked, for he was as much attached to the rogue as he would have been to a dog that he had raised from puppyhood.
"I make heem one fine dancing-bear," replied Pedro, "I teach heem lots treeks. He jes walk long, eat lots, sleep lots, have good time."
"Will you be good to him, Pedro?" asked the housewife, for she hated to think of the bear's having any but considerate treatment.
"Y-e-a-r-r—lady," replied Pedro. "I feed heem much sugar, much peanut and much banan. He good bar, I keep heem careful and good."
So Pedro finally left a part of the contents of one of his packs in exchange for the bear, and went upon his way with a lighter pack. In one hand he held a stout rope, the other end of which was fastened in Black Bruin's collar.
The poor bear continually looked back and whined as they went down the road, but Pedro coaxed and bribed him with sugar, that he had brought along for the purpose, until he was out of sight of the house.
Once beyond the reach of interference upon the part of his recent master, the Italian cut a stout heavy stick and sharpened one end, and with that as a goad, he drove the bear relentlessly before him. Instead of coaxing there were henceforth sharp thrusts with the point of the stick and savage blows upon the head.
At first Black Bruin was furious at such treatment, for had he not been spoiled and petted all his life? He soon saw, however, that this man was a new and terrible creature to be obeyed instantly, and one whose wrath it was not well to provoke by pulling back or sulking.
For several hours they journeyed on in this manner, until a small village was reached. Here the peddler disposed of the remaining goods in his two packs at a country store, and went into business as the keeper of a dancing-bear.
That night the two slept in an old barn, curled down in the hay, and nestled closely together for warmth.
When his deep breathing told the bear that his new master was sleeping soundly, he crawled carefully out of their nest and tried to slip away. But with a start Pedro awoke and pulled savagely upon his collar, while with his stick he prodded him back into his nest.
Truly this was a strange and terrible creature into whose hands he had fallen. He knew what was going on when he was asleep, as well as when he was awake. There would be no escape from him. The poor brute did not appreciate the fact that the Italian had tied the loose end of the rope about his wrist, so that the slightest tug upon it would awaken him.
The following morning, Black Bruin began his labors as bread-winner for both. At the first farmhouse they came to, Pedro stopped and in his broken English, offered to entertain the good country people with his bear in return for breakfast for both man and beast.
The offer was promptly accepted and Pedro's companion was made to shoulder his make-believe gun and march up and down. Then he was given an egg to suck, and he carefully nicked a little piece in one end, and licked out the delicious contents. This was the trick that he liked best of all.
Finally he got down on all fours and was horse for three children for several minutes. They would sit astride his back, with their small hands tightly clasping the bear's long, glossy hair, while Pedro slowly led him up and down.
At last the breakfast was set before them and the poor bear, who had done all the work, was glad of his share of hot biscuit and maple syrup.
When they were upon the road again, Pedro began teaching the bear new tricks, for the few that he already knew were not enough to satisfy his new master, who thought he saw considerable money in him.
Whenever they came to a tree that was suitable for climbing, he would lead Black Bruin up to it, and shout "climb," at the same time thrusting his pointed stick viciously into the bear's hinder parts.
At first, the bear remonstrated and growled, but he got such a drubbing and jabbing that he went whining up the tree, and when he would not come down Pedro threw stones at him, until he was glad to escape the missiles by obeying.
Much practice of this trick soon made the bear a great tree-climber, and he would scratch up the tree at his best pace, at the slightest sign from the Italian.
Next Pedro bought a bottle of ginger pop, which he sweetened considerably to make it even more palatable for the bear, and then slowly turned out a part of the contents for him to lick up. When this had been done, he put in the cork very slightly and held it up for the bear to lick. Of course the cork soon came out and more of the contents was spilled for the bear to drink. In this way by degrees he taught the brute that the cork must first come out and then there was sweet within.
When the trick was finally mastered, the bear would stand upon his hind legs, take a bottle of ginger pop from a man's hand, hold it between his paws, pull out the cork with his teeth, and deliberately drink the contents.
The performance of this trick got Pedro and the bear all the soda water and small drinks that they cared for at the country stores and hotels. Occasionally Pedro would push the cork in very tight to tease the performer, who would sometimes growl and box the bottle with his paw, to the great delight of the children.
At first the bear did not like beer, but he soon learned, and would drink it down the same as any toper.
Peanuts, pop-corn, corn-cake and candy he also learned to like, and his manner of eating these delicacies always amused the children.
Sometimes when he had been doing tricks in a village for hours he would get very tired and lie down and sulk, when Pedro would beat and prod him cruelly.
If the passers-by remonstrated with the Italian for treating his good bear in this manner, Pedro would make the excuse for cruelty so often heard in Italy, where very little consideration is shown animals.
"Huh, lady," he would say, "he no Christian, he just brute. Pedro, Christian, bear, brute, devil."
Whenever Pedro and his companion entered a village, they were always followed by an admiring crowd of children. As many as could, would climb upon Black Bruin's back, and ride in triumph through the street, while dozens, who were less fortunate, followed behind, shouting approval.
Although it was quite a hardship for the bear to carry such a load, yet the petting of the children was a great pleasure to him in these days of tribulation. It reminded him of the children at the farmhouse where every one had been so good to him. For, brute that he was, he was still amenable to kindness, and brutalized by brutality.
Pedro and Black Bruin were vagabonds, going up and down the country as the spirit moved them, living like two tramps without home, shelter or friends, save as they made them by the way.
Some nights they slept in haystacks, or in old barns. Sometimes they crawled into wagon sheds and slept upon loads of grain or produce that had been gotten ready for the morrow's marketing. More frequently they bivouacked in the open, under the blue canopy of heaven, merely sheltered a little by a friendly spruce or pine, with the silver moon for a lamp, and the bright stars for candles. The great shaggy beast and the little dark man slept in one bed, as it were. Pedro usually pillowed his head upon Black Bruin and so the bear had to lie very still and not disturb his master, for he got a pounding if he did.
Out here in the open all the night sounds came to them with startling distinctness;—the cry of the nighthawk and the chirping of a cricket, the peeping of hylas and the croaking of frogs and the wild, tremulous, mournful cry of the screech-owl.
The night winds blew upon their faces and the fragrance of the dew-laden flowers was in their nostrils. Theirs was not a cramped, stifling existence, but a full free life, and the sense of living, breathing, growing things was everywhere, and it made them glad.
The tan of wind and sun was upon Pedro's skin, making it even more swarthy.
In the morning, when the first faint gray streak lit the east, and robins and thrushes began to sing, they were up and ready for the day's work. Their toilet was very simple,—merely a wash and a drink of water from some neighboring brook, then they were ready for the road.
This was just the hour to find all the thrifty farmers' families at breakfast and it was much easier to get something for themselves when the table was spread for others. So Black Bruin danced and went through all his tricks, to the great delight of the children, that both he and Pedro might share the farmer's hospitality later.
When they were unlucky and had to go without breakfast, Pedro blamed his shaggy companion and swore at him in broken English, or showered blows upon him with the stout stick which he always carried.
Black Bruin soon learned to expect the blows and to cower from them and sometimes even whimper, when his master was unusually harsh; but in his heart, which was that of a wild beast, he was storing up wrath.
But there was something about the Italian that held him at bay as though with chains of steel. When Pedro's small glittering eyes were upon him, his own eyes fell. A kick would send him groveling to earth. In some unexplainable way he felt that this cruel creature was his master. He was subdued and held by a terrible grip.
To the bear the man was always a mystery. There was something fearful about him that he could not fathom and his source of strength the poor beast could not understand.
There was also an evil-smelling dark bottle in the Italian's inside coat-pocket, which was an enigma. It was not ginger pop or beer, or any kind of soda water; Black Bruin knew all of these drinks himself, and this drink was like none of them.
One day Pedro had fallen into a strange deep sleep and the bottle had slipped from his pocket. The bear had at once noticed it, picked it up and pulled out the cork, just as he would have done with a ginger pop bottle, and had taken a small swallow. But the strange stuff had burned his tongue and choked him. So he spat it out and broke the bottle with a single blow of his powerful paw. He finally licked up considerable of the whisky, as it was a hot day and he was thirsty. It had made him sleepy, so man and beast had lain down together in a drunken stupor.
After this day Black Bruin hated the bottle, out of which Pedro drank so frequently. They were also unlucky in getting meals when his master did this, for the simple country folk did not like to lodge or feed them when the dark, sinister-looking man was half drunk. So in many ways the bottle brought them ill-luck.
When Black Bruin and his companion began their wanderings from town to town, it was early spring-time. The buds were just beginning to redden upon the sugar-maple and the grass along sunny southern slopes, was putting on its first faint touch of green. The days were warm and sunny, promising buds and blossoms, but the nights were still clear and cold.
At first they had to lie close together at night for warmth, or rather the man had to cuddle down close to his shaggy warm companion; but spring soon passed and summer came and the two wanderers reveled in the lavish beauty and richness of nature.
In many of the pastures blueberries grew in profusion and Black Bruin needed no teaching to get his share of the palatable fruit. Along all the country roads, growing upon the stone walls and fences, were delicious red raspberries, which are much finer flavored than the cultivated kinds. Later on, when August laid her golden treasures in the lap of Mother Earth, the blackberries ripened in wild profusion. First in the open pasture came the low bushberries, and then the high bushberries along the edge of the forest.
Last of all came autumn with its treasures of harvest, fruits, nuts, melons and grains.
Wild grapes they found in abundance and all the nut-bearing trees rattled down their treasures for them. The melon-patch, the pound sweeting tree, the peach-orchard and the turnip-field all paid toll to the vagabonds. So, in spite of harsh treatment and hard work, Black Bruin laid on his usual layers of fat, against the long sleep of the coming winter.
What wonderful days these were when they wandered lazily from village to village, through long stretches of flaming red and golden forest, where the roadway was spread with a most gorgeous leaf-carpet.
They heard the jay squalling in the corn-field, and the crows gathering in the clan for their annual caucus. The squirrels chattered in the trees above them, but their old friends, the song-birds, had nearly all flown away to the South to escape the oncoming winter.
When Jack Frost and the merry north winds had robbed the trees of the last of their foliage and they stood out grim and gaunt against the bleak November sky; when the last purple asters and the hardiest bright goldenrod had faded, Black Bruin felt the old winter drowsiness slowly stealing upon him.
At last the first snow-storm came and that settled it in both the minds of Pedro and the bear. So the Italian led his companion far up into a wilderness region, and after searching about for half a day among the ledges found a natural cave which was about the size of a small room, and here left Black Bruin to sleep away the winter months.
He stayed in the region just long enough to make sure that the winter drowsiness had clutched him and also took the precaution to roll against the entrance of the cave, a large stone, which he had to move with a lever, that he might be sure of finding his partner in Vagabondia when he returned for him in the early spring. Pedro would take the precaution to come back a few days before the bear would naturally awaken.
A day or two after Black Bruin was left alone in his cavern a heavy storm set in, and before it ceased, a foot of snow had fallen.
It was now so deep that the passer-by would never have guessed that a bear was soundly sleeping a few feet back of the boulder which Pedro had placed at the entrance of the cave. This now merely looked like a white snowdrift that some freak of the wind had piled upon the mountainside.
In the dark and the silence of his underground room Black Bruin slept through the winter blizzards and cold as well as he would have done in warmer and more comfortable quarters. No sound broke the silence of his cave save his own deep breathing. If the sun shone, or the winds howled, or the storms beat, he knew it not.
Perhaps in dreamland he still wandered up and down the country picking blueberries or poking under the dead leaves for nuts, and always and forever doing tricks until his legs and back ached.
As for Pedro, he had no idea of hibernating, so he went away to a distant city and worked for a fellow countryman in a fruit store.
But work was not to his liking and he longed for spring to come that he and his companion might again be upon the road living the old free life.
THE BEAST AND THE MAN
A sense of pain and annoyance penetrated the deep sleep of Black Bruin, and with a growl and a start he awoke. When he had fallen asleep his mountain cavern had been quite dark. It had always been dark when he awoke and stretched himself, but now the full glory of daylight was streaming in.
There before him, dark, sinister and forbidding as ever, stood Pedro, and in his hand was the sharpened stick with which he had been prodding him, causing him to awaken.
As Black Bruin arose in response to his blows, he shook himself, and stretched first one cramped leg and then another, which were stiff after his long sleep. Pedro could not help but notice how he had grown and what a great brute he was getting to be.
"Holy saints," he ejaculated, "but he is one pig deevil-bear. I must club heem and prod heem much, or he eat me. He em one deevil."
Black Bruin felt a sense of irritation at the coming of his master and followed him sullenly as he led the way out of the winter quarters into the full day. How sweet and fresh was the air and how bright and beautiful the world. Then, for the first time, there came an almost overpowering longing for freedom. He had often felt it slightly, but now it nearly mastered him and he all but broke into open rebellion.
The deep woods were calling to him. The wild free life was his by right. He was no dog to be led about upon a chain, and to go and come at the beck of man. He was a wild beast whose home was the wilderness, and this cruel creature, who tyrannized over him, and prodded him, for whom he did tricks day after day, had stolen away his freedom.
Of course Black Bruin did not think these thoughts in just this way. To him they were dim and inexpressible; he only felt a wild rage at being restrained and made a captive and a hot desire to be off.
So it was with this ill-disguised humor that he followed his master from town to town and did his tricks.
Pedro, on the other hand, felt that the bear was becoming morose and that his spirit must be broken, so he prodded and beat him until his life was almost unbearable.
One evening the two camped near the edge of a spruce woods. Along one side of the road ran a turbulent stream, which was at the bottom of a deep gorge. At several points one could look down from fifty to one hundred feet to the water, foaming and lashing and rushing upon its way. For a part of the distance the bank was almost perpendicular, and here the passer-by was protected from falling into the abyss by a railing that was spiked to posts or convenient trees.
To-night, Pedro was sleeping soundly, his head pillowed upon his great coat, that he carried in the spring and fall against inclement weather. He no longer pillowed his head upon Black Bruin, who was chained to a near-by tree. The beast now also wore a muzzle and this was one more grievance which he nourished in his heart against the time of vengeance.
Black Bruin was not asleep, but was watching first his master and then the flickering light of their camp-fire. As he watched and pondered, the tyranny of his chain and muzzle grew upon him. The muzzle galled his nose and the chain was a continual reminder of his slavery. Pedro had prodded and clubbed him this spring until his body was sore. He no longer had the slightest spark of affection for the man, but instead a fearful hate that burned in his breast like living coals.
The sound of Pedro's deep breathing also filled him with a terrible rage. It seemed as if he could feel all the prods that he had received from the stick at once, and each stung him with a new pain. His breath came thick and hot and his eyes glowed with all the deep intensity of hate;—hate, that had long smouldered, fed with continual fuel, but always kept in check, only at last to break out in a conflagration, sweeping all before it.
At length raging, yet fearful, Black Bruin backed away to the full length of his chain and began straining upon it with all his might. It choked him until he could no longer breathe. Then he stopped for a moment to recover his breath, and went at the chain again.
For half an hour he tugged and strained, choking and gagging until at last the ring in his collar pulled out and he was free from the chain. But he was not free as long as that sleeping demon by the fire still had strength to pursue and recapture him. He never would be free until he had killed him.
Next he lay down and began tugging at his muzzle. That too choked him as he pulled upon it, and he nearly strangled in the process of wrenching it off, but finally the hated thing lay upon the ground, with the strong wires bent and the strap broken.
Then Black Bruin crept forward to within three or four feet of where Pedro lay heavily sleeping, and stood there, watching his master. He felt sure that with one blow of his paw he could cripple him, but he could not bring himself to strike that blow. The man might have some new and terrible hidden power that he knew not of. He had seen him do strange things and there might be still others that he had not yet tried. Could he not make fire out of sticks that really had no warmth in them? There was something fearful about a creature who could do such things.
But one thing was certain;—Pedro would not strike him again. The growing rage in his brute breast made that impossible.
If he would only move and get up and reach for his stick, then the poor enthralled brute might act. This would be a match to the powder.
At last Pedro stirred uneasily in his sleep and groaned, and with all the stealth of a wild beast Black Bruin drew nearer to him. He could see drops of sweat upon the man's brow and a tremor shook his body. Was this terrible demon really afraid? If so, Black Bruin himself would no longer be afraid, so he drew still nearer and stood over his master.
Then with a yell of terror that echoed through the cavernous woods, Pedro sprang to his feet, while his hand reached for the stiletto that he always carried. But quick as he was, he was not as quick as the bear, for, with a motion like lightning and a grip like steel, Black Bruin pinioned his arms to his sides and held him as though in the grip of Vulcan.